Russia is believed to have deployed Sukhoi Su-34 ‘Fullback’ strike aircraft to intensify its military offensive against Ukraine.
Videos surfaced online show as many as seven SU-34 fighter-bombers flying over the northeastern city of Kharkiv. Furthermore, images of FAB-500 unguided bombs, presumably dropped by Su-34s on a civilian location in Kharkiv, were also shared on the internet.
Experts interpreted this as a sign of things to come, implying that the Russian military has begun employing tactical aviation for bombing missions. Previously, only Su-25 assault aircraft were believed to be deployed for support missions.
On February 28, the Russian Air Force purportedly conducted an airstrike on a Ukrainian military post in the northeastern city of Kharkiv.
Footage claims to show 7 Russian airforce Su-34s bombers flying around Ukraine this morning. This would confirm the report from russian MoD this morning. Will update when there’s more footage.
(The man filming says “this is already the 7th one, holy sh*t”) pic.twitter.com/UB0T34VMns
— ASB News / MILITARY〽️ (@ASBMilitary) February 28, 2022
However, there is a counter-narrative from Ukraine’s side, claiming that defense forces had taken down a Su-34. Images of what is claimed to be the wreckage of the bomber were shared on social media. Experts, however, suggest that more proof is required to confirm this claim.
Wreckage said to be of a Russian Su-34 bomber purportedly near Kharkiv identified as the top wing panel of an Su-34 or Su-30SM based on panel line arrangement. pic.twitter.com/fFb9B53UJC
— Mike Yeo 杨启铭 (@TheBaseLeg) March 2, 2022
According to Janes World Air Forces, the Russian air force has at least 125 Su-34s currently in service. These combat planes are “flown operationally in Russia (it is also used in Syria, as well as by developmental test units) by the 277th Bomber Aviation Regiment at Komsomolsk-Khurba in the Far East, the 559th Bomber Aviation Regiment at Morozovsk in the Rostov region near Ukraine, and the 47th Independent Mixed Aviation Regiment at Voronezh-Baltimor, also near Ukraine.”
The Su-34 Strike Plane
The Sukhoi Su-34 is a twin-engine all-weather bomber/ground attack aircraft designed to strike both naval and ground targets.
It has a side-by-side arranged cockpit, with the pilot and co-pilot/navigator/weapons officer sitting next to each other. The cockpit is accessed through a built-in stepladder that runs from behind the landing gear to the back of the cockpit.
The cockpit, according to the Sukhoi, is big enough to stand up in. There’s also enough room for one of the two pilots to rest and has even a washroom and a tiny galley on board.
The platypus-nosed jet’s capacity to take a staggeringly vast amount of fuel is particularly remarkable. This allows it to conduct long-range operations even without aerial refueling.
With considerable titanium plating, the cockpit capsule is additionally protected against small weapons and anti-aircraft fire. The airframe and other components are likewise armored.
The Su-34 is an unusual aircraft for several reasons. It offers superior payload and range of a medium- or long-range bomber with the maneuverability of a fighter, in addition to its duckbill-shaped fuselage.
The Su-34 carries a 30-millimeter gun for ground assaults, in addition to 12 hardpoints on the wings and fuselage for various bombs and missiles. The unique tail boom on the back of the fuselage is one of the Su-34’s most visible features.
The boom contains a brake parachute, auxiliary power unit, additional fuel, and a smaller rear-facing radar antenna that can alert the pilots if missiles are approaching the aircraft.
A Combat-Proven Jet
This aircraft was also deployed to Syria, where no Su-34s were lost due to mishaps or enemy fire. Two Su-34 prototypes are said to have provided escort jamming and precision strike assistance during Russia’s second Chechen War and the Russo-Georgian War.
These aircraft, stationed at Russia’s northernmost facilities, are “capable of reaching the airspace over northeastern Greenland with little prior warning,” according to a recent risk assessment by Danish intelligence.
According to the CSIS, “Russian combat aircraft could reach Thule Air Base, a key installation in the United States’ space and missile defense architecture, while simultaneously enlarging Russia’s A2/AD bubble into the North Atlantic.” This could pose a threat to American and NATO interests in the region.
Despite its effectiveness in Syria as a counter-insurgency aircraft, the Su-34 might be vulnerable due to its radar visibility and the role of infiltrating guarded enemy airspace to strike important targets behind the front lines.